Universität Zürich

IKMZ - Department of Communication and Media Research

Media Change & Innovation Division

Andreasstrasse 15
CH-8050 Zurich
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How Long and What For? Tracking a Nationally Representative Sample to Quantify Internet Use


Noemi Festic /

Büchi, Moritz /

Michael Latzer

Journal of Quantitative Description, 1, 1-23. https://doi.org/10.51685/jqd.2021.018

Testing communication theories requires a valid empirical basis, yet especially for usage time measures, retrospective self-reports have shown to be biased. This study draws on a unique data set of 923 Swiss internet users who had their internet use tracked for at least 30 days on mobile and desktop devices and took part in a survey covering internet usage as well as person-level background variables. The analysis focuses on active usage time overall and on the major services Google Search, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, and the online newspaper 20 Minuten. The results showed that overall internet usage time was lower for older and higher-educated users based on both the tracking and survey data, and the reported usage time was consistently higher than the tracked usage time. The tracking data further revealed that internet users in all social groups spent the majority of their time online on a mobile device. The number of users of the major services varied mainly between age groups. These differences were less pronounced when it came to the time users spent engaging with these services. Over the course of a day, the major services varied in their frequency of use: for example, messaging peaked before noon and in the late afternoon, whereas online news use was comparably constant at a lower level.